Board & card games

Don't risk the dog getting excited and knocking plastic pieces on the floor - play these amazing board and card games inside your iOS device instead.


Agricola is light on conflict (although not devoid of it) and heavy on strategy. It's a board game about farming. Wake up at the back, because - despite that unthrilling description - Agricola is a bulletproof modern classic: a finely tuned killer of a game that will drag you in and never let go.

It's a worker placement: each member of your family gets to perform one action each turn, whether that is collecting a resource (wood, stone, livestock), building or renovating a room, putting up fences, ploughing or sowing the fields or (look away, grandma) 'family growth'. But the various actions can each be performed only once per turn - hence the worry that an opponent will jump in ahead of you and grab whatever you need.

You can't die, but you'll be amazed by how much it hurts if you fail to collect enough food for your family on one of the designated feeding phases, and shamefacedly pick up one or more point-docking begging cards. And getting your farm running smoothly, with the crops ripening and animated baby animals appearing at the proper time, is hugely satisfying.

It often feels like games end too soon: just one more turn, you think, because you're starting to get the hang of everything. That's probably a good sign.

£6.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Agricola

Best iPhone games | Best iPad games: Agricola

Card Thief

This game is what happens when solitaire collides with stealth. Nine cards are dealt as a three-by-three grid, and your aim is to draw a path through them that maximises the loot you snag, but minimises stealth point losses. Said losses can quickly rack up, if you attempt to tackle too many guards or monsters, or blunder about extinguishing torches.

As you get further into the game, new subtleties are unearthed. There are chests to ransack, and barrels to hide in that replenish your stealth points. Some enemies steal your gold, and others move around, as if the cards they're housed in are alive. Collect enough swag and you can spend it on power-ups, giving you a fighting chance of higher scores during subsequent games.

With plenty of depth and superb visuals, even its slightly repetitive nature can't take the edge off Card Thief. Start playing and it's guaranteed to steal plenty of your time.

£2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Card Thief

Best iPhone & iPad games: Card Thief

Catan Classic

Graphically, this is a faithful rendition of Klaus Teuber's superb and deservedly idolised tile-based island conquest game. Having the iPad handle those tiresome banking duties and victory point calculations makes things far more fast-paced than the board game, and you can view statistical tables at the end of the bout.

The computer players can be absolute swines - they'll merrily gang up on you in a way that most human players would consider beyond the pale - but hardcore gamers may even consider this a plus. And the original game is such a work of genius that this couldn't help being great fun, even if it's not the perfect iOS port.

£4.99 per app | For iPhone and iPad (separate apps) | Download Catan Classic for iPhone or Catan Classic HD for iPad

Best iPhone games | Best iPad games: Catan HD iPad board game review

Exploding Kittens

Originally a real-life card game that was the most-backed ever (in terms of backer numbers) on Kickstarter, Exploding Kittens subsequently blasted its way on to mobile. The game is more or less Russian Roulette with cats. You play with two to four other people, drawing cards. If someone gets an exploding kitten, they're out of the game - unless they can defuse it. Other cards enable a modicum of tactics: you can skip turns, peek at the top of the deck, shuffle and steal cards, and slap opponents so they take a turn.

The iOS version offers online play against random opponents or friends in private matches, secured with codes. Everything's been cleverly tweaked for screen, such as with the addition of a 'chance of kitten' meter that starts going nuts when an exploding kitten is likely, and madcap audio and energetic animation that aligns nicely with co-creator Matthew Inman's surreal oddball imagery.

£1.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Exploding Kittens

Best iPhone games | Best iPad games: Exploding Kittens


Basically Magic: The Gathering with Warcraft characters, Hearthstone is a card battle game. Build decks and strategies, summon minions and cast spells. The different classes and their specific cards and abilities add a nice level of variety, and a single-player mode means you don't have to take your game online unless you want to.

As with all trading card games, Hearthstone hinges to some degree on IAP for new card packs, but the quest rewards for fulfilling various criteria (such as number of monsters summoned or points healed) minimise the necessity of paying for anything.

The turn-based set-up makes it a perfect game to play during odd moments, and seeing a long-term strategy pay off is very satisfying.

FREE + IAPs | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Hearthstone

Best iPad & iPhone games: Hearthstone


Touchscreen devices have really helped games creators to approach well-worn genres in a new way. Meteorfall is a great example - it's essentially an algorithmically generated role-playing game - a modern-day take on the likes of Apple II classic Ultima. But you interact with it by swiping, Tinder-style, to choose/reject actions, based on drawn cards.

That might sound reductive, but it really isn't. Instead, Meteorfall provides an inviting, immediate take on adventuring in a mythical world of monsters, spells and swords. Anyone can grasp the basics, but to have any chance of seeing through a quest, you need to put in serious time to understand the game's idiosyncrasies.

Getting started, though, is straightforward enough. You pick a hero, select a battleground, and swipe left or right to make decisions. This may be attacking an enemy (wins give you experience points) or fleeing (to boost your reserves), or selecting from a pair of spell cards.

Over time, you build and customise your deck of actions and skills, strategically using them to carve your way through evil monsters - right up until a ghoulish boss inevitably kills you. At which point, you dust yourself off and have another go, safe in the knowledge no two games of Meteorfall are ever alike.

£2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Meteorfall

Pandemic: The Board Game

Pandemic is a vastly popular co-operative board game in which up to four friends work together to defeat four diseases sweeping the globe. Each turn you'll travel from city to city, treat the sick and research cures, hoping that the random new infections don't strike in that worst possible place and snowball into multiple outbreaks (spoiler: they always do). It's unbelievably tense, and winning feels amazing. And everyone is involved, since you're each allocated a role with special powers that will prove crucial in particular situations.

The iOS version works far better as a solo experience, but it still induces a massive (but pleasurable) panic at its key moments. And the euphoria of victory is also sweet. That said, take heed - even on the easy difficulty level, this virtual take seems tougher than the cardboard version.

£3.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Pandemic: The Board Game

Best iPhone games | Best iPad games: Pandemic iPad board game review

Really Bad Chess

Chess is amazing but can intimidate newcomers and be analysed to death by veterans. You can get around this by randomising the starting position of non-pawn pieces, but Really Bad Chess goes much further, in randomising pretty much everything, bar the king. Pawns might start on the back row, or you might luck out and get seven queens while your opponent looks on in horror, armed with a single rook.

It's curious and immediate, but also more mentally demanding than traditional chess. You lose the security blanket of E2 to E4, D2 to D4, knight to F3, wake me up when something interesting happens. Everything is new - and potentially dangerous - from the very start.

That said, there is an attempt at balance - albeit a strange one. Initially, you have a distinct advantage, but win often and the set-ups favour you less and less. The AI never gets smarter - it just gets a better starting point. It's a clever idea, and makes for a chess game that's a lot of fun.

FREE | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Really Bad Chess

Best iPhone games | Best iPad games: Really Bad Chess

Sage Solitaire

Mobile solitaire ends up using tiny cards to fit them all on the screen. Sage Solitaire's solution: a three-by-three grid, quite a bit of poker, and a virtual trip to Vegas.

In the basic mode, you score by removing poker hands; the better the hand, the more points you get. Strategy comes from a limitation that forces you to use cards from multiple rows for each hand. With the stacks at the top of the screen being taller than those at the bottom, the latter's cards are best used sparingly. In addition, a randomly allocated suit acts as a multiplier, bestowing double points when used in a hand, and two 'trashes' exist to remove individual cards.

The Vegas mode, unlocked on clearing the entire board three times, gives you a virtual bank account, awards cash prizes only when using the multiplier hand, and ups your overall payout multiplier on clearing piles from the top two rows. Subtly different strategies are required for success, hence the initial lockdown - it's very easy to otherwise burn through your limited funds.

Crack Vegas and hit $800, and you can try your hand at True Grit. There, once your in-game money's gone, it's gone for good - there's no IAP to refill your virtual coffers. In fact, the game's sole £2.99 IAP exists purely to unlock two further modes (Double Deck and Fifteens), remove the ads, and give you achievements to aim for.

FREE | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Sage Solitaire

Best iPad games | Best iPhone games: Sage Solitaire

Ticket To Ride

One for the trainspotters, you might think, although experience suggests that this simple but engrossing game will appeal to everyone.

You collect coloured cards, which you then use to build railway infrastructure across the map, attempting to connect up the cities named in your (randomly allocated) objectives. Tactically we believe it's relatively straightforward, but the competition for critical stretches can get fierce. And in the end there's not much in life more satisfying than building a railway.

The default map covers the US, and there are European - and other - expansions available as IAP.

£8.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Ticket to Ride

Best iPhone games | Best iPad games: Ticket To Ride iPad board game review